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Betan Vacation.

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Miles is on a Mission. It's a self-appointed one, but some of his best missions have been ones he's thought up and sold to Illyan later as a 'but I thought you wanted me to use my initiative, sir' fait-accompli.

This is none of those things. This is a mission of vacation. He has leave. He has managed to make the universe line up properly so that Petya has leave as well. And they are on Beta Colony.

For years, it has been one of his private ambitions to get his brother to take a real vacation. If it will happen anywhere, it will happen on Beta Colony.

They're staying with Grandma Naismith, which Miles had worried about briefly, because Petya had mentioned once a long time ago that he had met her at medical conference back on Earth where Miles's case had been presented as part of ongoing discussions on how to deal with cleaning up pre-natal poison damage in vitro. And back then, Beta had still had arrest warrants out for any Vorkosigan on the charge of kidnapping Cordelia Naismith, though the war crimes ones had been disappeared by then, he's pretty sure.

But he had worried in vain, because Petya and Grandma are getting along just fine. Although Petya still hasn't gotten the message that he's meant to be off-duty, damn him.

"We just had a peaceful transition of power," Petya objects to something Grandma just said about a recent Betan holovid about Evil Emperor Dorca and his Mostly Evil Conquering of the Counts. Which is a civil war widely known on Barrayar as Dorca's unification and considered to have saved the planet, but this is Beta, not Barrayar. The history holovids here don't have to pass Domestic Affairs inspections. "When Gregor came of age and the Lord Regent stepped down."

"First peaceful transition of power since Yuri took over from Dorca, although some say you can't that a peaceful transition, really, because the rumor used to be that he held a sword to Xav to do it," Miles says. "But Gran'da used to call that a spurious lie that he and Xav made up to spread around during Yuri's War to undermine Yuri's claim."

"Xav didn't want the throne," Petya starts.

Miles interrupts. "But let's not get Petya stared on the party line. He can do it all day." He ignores Petya's dirty look. "It's kind of his job," Miles explains. "He's Major Vorkosigan when he's on duty." Which is not at the moment, thank you, Petya.

"Are you?" Grandma asks dryly, clearly taking in the fact that Petya does not know how to stand not with perfect military bearing. "Imperial Security like Miles?"

"Imperial Service, Diplomatic Corps," Petya says. "In short, soldier-diplomats."

Grandma is giving Petya her 'all Barrayarans are crazy' look. Miles jumps in to explain. "It's a small corps; you only ever see them assigned to embassies or the odd major space station, and they're technically considered ground troops, although of course they're combined service like the rest of us. They pretend to be military, but they'd rather talk than shoot, and they have a lot of restrictions when it comes to being armed. Still, they get nifty military rankings, which make them feel important."

Petya looks like he takes severe offense to this characterization, but is too well-mannered to say so. It's not the first time Miles has exploited Petya's well-trained diplomatic reflexes for his own purposes. "Miles makes it sound more, ah, complicated than it is. Our role is to act as a buffer between Imperial Security and the Imperial Diplomatic Service, who are civilians. We are held to different standards than either one, with different jobs, duties, assignments, and expectations."

"If he were to ever become an ambassador or have a top job in an embassy," Miles says, "he'd have to resign his commission. Diplomatic Corps officers tend to top off at Major. Petya got the rank with his posting, he's at Vervain now." Which had saved Miles's life, but that's all classified, and Grandma loves him even though Miles almost got the Emperor killed in the process of rescuing him. "Actually, I think, he got it to balance out the military and social duties; when you're being seated next to planetary presidents and prime ministers, it helps if you're not Captain Lord Vorkosigan and have a military rank that corresponds better to your social position in Barrayaran society. Although we're not supposed to say that out loud and supposed to say instead that Petya got his promotion due to seniority, and not as part of the institutional preferential treatment the Vor get in both diplomatic services. But I digress."

"It's a self-perpetuating problem," Petya says to Grandma Naismith while Miles takes a breath to keep going. "Which we've been working to fix. Everyone knows that if you aren't Vor, you're much more likely to get ahead and get promoted faster if you go into anything but diplomacy. And while it's true that the Vor mystique is a currency we freely trade in, much like old Earth's royal relics, non-Vor diplomats get paraded around, too, as signs of Barrayaran progress. And we need more of them."

Miles recognizes this tone. Petya is about to launch into his Barrayar Needs You speech, edited down specially, of course, for the audience; Petya's too good to give a boilerplate recruiting speech to someone he can't actually recruit. Miles could mouth the talking points along with him, beat for beat. He almost does, then thinks better of mocking Petya that openly. He's trying to get him to relax, not needle him into curling up into a prickly ball of pissed-off-Petya, complete with formal phrases that mean 'fuck off' and sound like a Council filibuster.

"There was one time I would have given anything for a greekie. It was a potential cultural exchange of fine art as a prelude to setting up a more serious art trade relationship between a handful of parties -- Barrayar, Earth, Lairouba, New Tertius, and Vervain -- but the discussion touched on a range of topics, and to cut a long story short: we needed a greekie. I ended up having to steal one from a field position in communications and then I spent a week giving him a crash-course in state dinners. He did his duty to the best of his ability, I must say, and though I gave him a commendation, I certainly did not recommend him for a transfer. Essentially, no matter what your name or your background is, we can use you in diplomacy, whichever service best suits. However, since it's common knowledge that non-Vor need not apply, non-Vor very often don't. Every young officer in the Corps I know who isn't Vor was aggressively recruited and offered great reassurances about how it wouldn't hurt their careers or advancement prospects. But, ah. I can't promise them that it won't, because sometimes it does. It's insidious and it's a problem. We're working on it."

Miles knows that Petya's spent years working with Imperial Service HQ and the Ministry of Galactic Affairs on recruiting strategies, and so knows that at least that part of that is both very true and a complete understatement of the effort involved. Of course, Petya could work on it a lot more efficiently and effectively if he'd let Gregor give the damn promotion Gregor's been wanting to give him, and bring him back to the capital to be Petya-in-force at people until they agree with him. But Petya seems to be allergic to the capital. And he also doesn't seem to understand that he isn't on duty right now. He's on leave, he's allowed to relax.

"So you won't be promoted past this rank?" Grandma asks. "That seems unmilitary, for Barrayar."

"In high-profile embassies," Miles says, before Petya can start in with the party line on this subject, which is, for the most part, transparent platitudes about duty and honor, with a feigning of disdain for rank added on for good measure, "which is on any planet we've been at war with in recent memory, like Cetaganda and Escobar, they have Colonels, but even here on Beta Colony, the highest ranked officer is Major Vorhovis, who's about ten years older than Petya and looks to retire at that rank at Winterfair. Diplomatic Corps officers tend to retire into the civilian service or the Ministry of Galactic Affairs, although some have been folded into ImpSec's Galactic Affairs department. Vorhovis is rumored to have already been handpicked to be the next Minister of Galactic Affairs when Vortaine dies." Petya grimaces at him. Ah. Clearly, that's meant to be an open secret, not common knowledge. Always a tricky distinction to make. "It's a strange kind of military service, where to get a promotion, you have to be a civilian. They don't let serving officers hold high civilian-ranked positions in embassies. People might think they were being invaded."

"Ah, I see," says Grandma Naismith, even though she clearly finds the idea of having to have two different diplomatic services to be a Barrayaran absurdity.

"Miles with his flair for the dramatic is making it sound more elaborate than it is," Petya says. And he's giving Miles a look that adds, and I would thank you to stop, please. "My job is mostly to sort out visas for security-sensitive visitors to Barrayar, including anyone on active military service, or dealing with weapons-permits for Barrayaran armsmen. We get a lot of soldier-scholars who want to come to Barrayar for research purposes, that sort of thing. It's really very boring. The part that isn't paperwork is attending parties as Lord Vorkosigan, which is purely a civilian issue."

"He doesn't even wear a recording device when he does it," Miles complains to his grandmother. "It was such a disappointment to me when I found that out. Hey, Petya," he says to his brother. "Remember the good old days, when Diplomatic Corps meant acknowledged spy?"

"No, and neither do you," Petya retorts. At Grandma Naismith's scandalized look, Petya explains, reluctantly, "it does have a real historical basis. It was once a historically accurate euphemism that dated back to the Time of Isolation and ended in the middle of the First Cetagandan War. This was during the unification wars, those, ah, power struggles between centralized Imperial authority and the individual District authority of the Counts. The Emperor would send emissaries a week or so before marching on a rebellious Count's territory and the Count knew which one was the official spy because it was the diplomat with a military rank. They weren't the only spies, of course, just the acknowledged one. The spies spied on each other, too. Kept everyone honest. Imperial Security attempted to continue the tradition when contact was re-established with galactic civilization, until everyone realized that galactics killed all spies outright, not just the unacknowledged ones. At which point the euphemism ceased to hold any accuracy."

Left unsaid is that ImpSec still likes to hide covert ops agents among the Diplomatic Corps, considering it to be a useful, flexible cover. Miles, whose official assignment is courier officer, only grins.

Petya changes the subject smoothly and that carries them through recent Betan medical advances to the always-relevant topic of uterine replicators and then to what Petya and Miles are planning to do on this vacation. Miles had declined to set a formal agenda, because he knows he would just ignore it, and Petya wouldn't believe it anyway.

Petya excuses himself briefly to perform the nightly check-in with the embassy. Yes, we're both fine. Yes, we haven't been eaten by evil Betans yet. Yes, Miles hasn't vanished and gotten himself into trouble. Yet. Miles would try to do it himself, except that Petya outranks him by a whole lot, and a Lieutenant only checks in for a Major if the Major is in the process of vomiting out his guts. And even then, possibly not.

"So," Grandma says, "what are your plans? You have that look in your eyes, Miles. You're plotting something."

"I'm going to take Petya to the Orb," Miles says, bouncing a little in his seat at the thought of this plan actually succeeding, and taking care to keep his voice down. "I want it to be a surprise, for his birthday. I think it might do him good. You know, relax a little, take a deep breath, have some fun. He doesn't relax at all, normally. He flinches at shadows when he's around me." Miles pauses thoughtfully. "Can't imagine why. The Orb would be good for him. I could abandon him there, so he won't feel like his baby brother is staring over his shoulder when he's trying to have sex, and if anyone can get him to relax, it'll be someone he meets at the Orb. It's a different planet, he's allowed to violate Vor standards, and god knows he's not having sex on Barrayar. Or, if he is, he's being so discreet that capital gossip has never heard about it; there're only vapor rumors about him, not anything of real substance. Though I'd suppose he'd have to be extremely discreet, considering how eligible a bachelor he is. He's one of the only heirs to a Countship who's of age and isn't married."

"How old is he?" Grandma asks. "I can never tell with Barrayarans. They age so strangely."

"Forty-four," Miles says promptly. "By galactic standards, he should be thinking about kids. By Barrayaran standards, he should have three or four. But he's not married and he's turned down all offers. He says he's not on-planet long enough to get married and he's not interested in raising kids while on embassy duty. Which is a stupid excuse," Miles grumbles, "since Petya could have his pick of assignments and Gregor would send him wherever he wants to go. If Petya wanted kids, Gregor could assign him to the Galactic Affairs office in the capital or even to a post in Hassadar if Petya wants to be really Old Vor about his kids being born in the District. Hmph. I wasn't born in the District and I turned out all right."

Grandma Naismith makes a very Mother-ish sound. "Not everyone is fit to be a parent, Miles. Or wants to be."

"It's his Vor duty to have kids," Miles says. "It's Barrayar, not Beta. We don't have to get permits to have children. I think we probably need to get permits not to. I'm his legal heir right now, but all that means is that he's passing the child duty on to me. And thanks so much for that, Petya."

Petya clears his throat from the doorway. "I'm waiting for Gregor to do it first."

Miles whirls. "Gregor is twenty years younger than you. You were of an age with his father. Petya, be reasonable."

"I am eminently reasonable," Petya says, "and I remember Serg. And Vordarian. And Padma." He says that like it's all that needs to be said. Sadly, he's probably right.

"When we met on Earth, back at that conference," Grandma says, "you made a point of mentioning to me that you were one-eighth Betan, while Miles was five-eights, yet he was the one who looked--," Grandma looks like she's biting on a lemon and that is preferable to repeating what Petya had said. "Barrayarans," she mutters.

Petya smiles tightly. "I am my own third cousin, ma'am," he says. "I'll be happy to leave the dynastic continuations to someone much less inbred than myself. Even gene cleaning technology can do only so much, especially among High Vor who are already as obscenely closely-related as we all are. If Miles marries a galactic, his children would be about as inbred as the rest of the galaxy is, on average, and even if he married a Barrayaran, they could gene clean the children until being reasonably certain that nothing else was lurking in the genes. I don't have that luxury."

"No one said you have to marry a Vorrutyer or a Vorinnis," Miles complains. "And those are the only lines you have to be worried about. And Vorbarra, but that's not even possible."

"And Vortaine," Petya says grimly. "And Vorsmythe. And anyone a Vorrutyer has married in the last, oh, four or five generations, at the very least. It comes to almost every High Vor of my age group who managed to stay alive through Vordarian."

"Could just marry a Low Vor or a prole," Miles says. "You're speculating about me and galactics and you're restricting yourself to your relatives."

"I'm more than half Vorrutyer. There are expectations," Petya says, exasperated. "Your mother is Betan. You can get away with so much more than I could imagine."

"And Dad is Admiral Vorkosigan. And he got away with marrying a Betan."

"He was in his forties," Petya grumbles.

"So are you," Miles points out before Petya can interrupt him again.

"With an untouchable military legacy after conquering Komarr and facilitating the Escobaran retreat. He was also, as far as he was concerned, done with his career. After Escobar, after the political tumult he was tied up in for years before that invasion, he had been proven right and was finally, and rather briefly, untouchable in political realm, and, again, was professionally retired. The only ones who might have protested were people in the District who either still had a bad taste in their mouths for galactics after the Cetagandans -- they remember Vorkosigan Vashnoi -- or thought it was too soon to marry a Betan after their technology had killed Serg at Escobar."

"Are you even listening to yourself?" Miles demands. "Dad can get away with things because he was Admiral Vorkosigan and had nothing to lose? You're Piotr Vorkosigan. You're famous for being invisible and, for when you do show up, being the elegant diplomat until you charm every eligible lady into a swoon. Do you have any idea how much power you have? You're Lord Vorkosigan. Pay attention to your own reputation some time."

Petya laughs. "Dad told me once to never pay attention to reputation."

Miles curses at him loudly. "You could take retirement as you please, Petya. You're already a twenty-year's man. Or you could let Gregor promote you. I know he wants to. He gets annoyed at the reminder that you're stuck in Vervain, after playing musical postings your entire career. Resign your commission, get an embassy. It's a good trade, from where I'm sitting. And your career wouldn't be at the whim of some Vor stodgy who objects to who you married, not that anyone would dare tell Aral Vorkosigan's son that he married the wrong woman. An ambassador would have to be removed by a Joint Session -- you could marry a Betan hermaphrodite and they wouldn't be able to muster up enough votes to throw you out."

"My philosophy in life," Petya says calmly, "is to keep as low a profile as possible. Fewer people try to kill you, when you do. Why on Mad Yuri's Grave do you think I want to be an ambassador? Or have a politically dangerous marriage?"

"You can't go through your life molding everything you do to avoid a scandal!"

Petya's eyebrows lift. "Miles, where have you been for the last twenty years? Have you been paying attention at all?"

"Dad hasn't been the Lord Regent for over half a decade now. You're free. You've been free. Don't tell me that you enjoy living in political exile."

"I enjoy the illusion of safety," Petya says, "as opposed to the surety of risk." The words are tinged heavy with a particular Barrayaran irony; Miles is sure Grandma Naismith has no idea what Petya is really saying, she doesn't have the cultural background to understand that Petya had just been deliberately insulting. To himself. As a deflection technique, it's pretty damn effective.

"Risk in service is the Vorish trade," Miles returns, stung. "Risk in society and in politics is--"

"A choice, Miles," Petya interrupts. "And I choose to stay away from Vorbarr Sultana. I find being Major Vorkosigan on a planet recently invaded by Cetaganda to be much less hazardous than being Lord Vorkosigan at a Winterfair Ball. When Gregor sees fit to have a named heir and our father isn't his presumed heir, then I'll be able to sleep easily in Vorkosigan House. Until then, I'm the named heir of the Emperor's presumed heir. And him no longer being Lord Regent has no bearing on this. I'm still in a great deal of danger in the capital. It's a different kind of danger, but dead is dead and dishonored is dishonored."

"Ivan is assigned to Vorbarr Sultana," Miles says, somewhat desperately. He needs to regain control of this conversation, dammit. "And you can't be more paranoid about conspiracies than Ivan is."

"Padma wasn't yet four when Mad Yuri was killed," Petya says. "Ivan wasn't born when Padma was killed. No, I can't be more paranoid than Ivan. He thinks he lives under a blood-line curse and I can't say he's wrong. My danger is familial. Mad Yuri did not, after all, make my father an orphan. Vordarian did not kill my father, despite his best efforts."

Petya's left a name out, Miles realizes, and then he bites his tongue. He bites his tongue really damn hard, remembering Elena Visconti and what she'd said and what Gregor had done when the code of silence about Serg had been broken. What the hell does Petya know about Serg that he's never said? What did Serg do to him? "What if Gregor got married tomorrow? What if he had an heir in a year, what then? Would you finally stop running away from home?"

Petya nearly smiles. "I try to avoid hypothetical scenarios. For now, my Vorkosigan duty lies in not being a distraction from the Prime Minister's legislative agenda, and my Vor duty lies in serving my Emperor to the best of my ability. When Gregor finally performs his Vor duty, then we'll have a conversation about running away from our responsibilities."

And that, from his tone, is clearly the end of the conversation and the last thing Petya is willing to say on the topic.

 

-----

 

Petya retires to bed at a reasonable time, claiming jump lag. Grandma Naismith gives Miles some cookies and an assessing look.

"I think your perspective on your brother is a little too Barrayaran," Grandma Naismith says.

Miles blinks, a cookie halfway to his mouth. "I can't say I haven't considered that, but..."

"And if your brother prefers men," Grandma continues, "I hope he's aware that it's not a problem at all on Beta. I don't know what Barrayar does to your mind, but being in a relationship with another man is nothing to be ashamed of."

"I know that, but--"

"I think the Orb is an excellent idea, Miles," Grandma says firmly. "He is sure to find someone there, licensed professional or enthusiastic amateur, that he is compatible with. Whether or not he is sexually attracted to men."

"No, I think Petya is sexually attracted to the illusion of safety," Miles says. "But as far as who he's having sex with, I honestly have no idea. He must have a sex life. But I don't know with who. He doesn't bring anyone home. Well, a couple of times he's brought home a colleague, but those were times when there was a dinner party that Petya was required to attend and it was in the middle of some kind of diplomatic crisis, but those were clearly working dinners as far as Petya was concerned. Unless Petya gets off on that. I wouldn't be surprised," he finishes darkly.

Grandma does not seem impressed. "You mentioned that Petya was under pressure to have children?"

"Well, I'd like him to," Miles says. "A bunch of little Vorkosigans running around, sure. Dad would like it, too. Mother, I think, also, because I know she worries about something happening to Petya and me having to take up the mantle of being the heir. Mother would be a lot happier if I moved here. She thinks Barrayar is trying to eat me alive."

"From what you've said and what I've observed tonight," Grandma says, clearly troubled, "I suspect it's already eaten your brother."

"Petya? No, Petya's a rock. You can't shift him. I've tried. He's stubborn, and don't let the bland persona fool you, he can be utterly ruthless. I was joking before. There is no way he would have made Major without being able to do what was necessary and damn his conscience. You can throw Petya into a storm and he'll weather it fine, come out skipping. It's the rest of us who'll be soaking wet."

Grandma clearly is not buying it.

"Sometimes I think," Miles blabbers on, "you could fast-penta Petya and he could beat it through sheer stubborn bloody-mindedness. Jab it in hard and all he'll give you is his name and possibly tell you to go fuck yourself. Because Petya is--"

Petya is what? Miles knows nothing of Petya's private social life outside of the choreographed splendor of High Vor society. He has no idea where Petya goes when he's on leave off-planet, doesn't know what Petya gets up to or with whom. For all Miles knows, Petya has a wife and five kids back on Earth.

Or a husband and two uterine-replicated children on Beta.

Um.

Miles could kick himself for never having put it all together before. Though he supposes it's because he wasn't looking all that hard at the problem. Petya's Petya. He...he just is. Petya actually having sex is a very strange concept for Miles to get his head around.

"--my brother," he finishes poorly. "Petya is my brother and he's a magician who does things like bring me gifts from strange far-off places, and be one of the few people to never, ever flinch when he saw me when they were still playing see-what-happens with my medical treatments, and who never made a show of being careful when he picked me up. And he'd put me on his shoulders in crowds and arranged it so I could watch the Counts when our-father-the-Lord-Regent was ramming through gene scanning legislation. And he'd go all Petya-in-force at Vor twits who'd called me a mutie. Isn't that what big brothers are supposed to do? He always assured me that it was."

"I see," says Grandma Naismith, and she probably actually does. She gives Miles a tender smile, then says, "but his choice of sexual partners shouldn't pose any problem for him in producing children. Your mother has led me to believe that Barrayar's current major concern with sexuality is in the production of heirs, and that isn't a problem at all. On Beta, co-parents who have a permit are entitled by law to a child. The replicator medtechs have access to a bank of donated male and female material. The co-parents simply have to decide which parent will donate the other half of the genetic material. Some choose to use donated genetic material entirely and forgo a blood relationship to the child."

"And on Barrayar, that child would be legally a bastard," Miles says, "because the parents wouldn't be married. It wouldn't matter who the other half of the genes came from, if it was donated like on Beta or bought like on Jackson's Whole or simply government properly like on Cetaganda. Barrayar cares a lot about the legal relationship between the parents. If Petya went that route, the child would be a bastard. He could acknowledge it, sure. We have a long and not entirely proud history of war bastards and, of course, peace bastards as well, and a Count's Heir legitimizing a future Count would not be unprecedented, Count's choice before Count's blood, after all. Very few things are unprecedented in the Counts, and Petya would be shoving a bastard in instead of his mutie brother, which would gain it support and traction among the conservatives who would usually choke at the idea of letting in a bastard, because they hate mutants more. But it might not pass and it would certainly cause a huge scandal, and Petya is allergic to those."

"Barrayarans make everything so needlessly complicated," Grandma says. "But I suppose you can use that to your advantage. Your government runs on nepotism, doesn't it? Can't your brother ask your Emperor to make a law so it wouldn't be a problem?"

"He could," Miles says, "but then Gregor and Dad would have to shove it through the Council. As Prime Minister, Dad holds his position by Gregor's whim, he can't lose it just because enough of his pet causes fail. But enough failures and a few really big ones would damage his coalition and probably have an impact on future legislation that Gregor and Dad want to have passed. If the Prime Minister can't hold a majority vote together, Dad would suggest Gregor find a different Prime Minister. And I know this might seem absurd to any Betan, but I guarantee you that Petya has considered this from all angles. We might get a law on this in twenty years. But probably not before then. Uterine replicators are still a contentious issue. I can't imagine when the Counts would be ready for a new legitimacy law that takes uterine replicator technology into consideration. It would affect inheritance law, divorce law... ha, imagine Gregor trying to write his own updated version of Vlad's widow's law to deal with even more inconvenient inheritance problems. I can just imagine what Mother would say and in what tone. The salic law implications alone would be nightmarish, divorce law might need to be rewritten entirely, what with all the inevitable custody repercussions. If we started tomorrow and were able to pull it out within fifteen years, I'd be shocked."

Miles sighs. "You're right. We do make things complicated."

 

-----

 

Miles sneaks into the guest room and closes the door carefully. When he turns around, Petya is sitting on his side on the bed, leaning against the wall and staring at Miles through the dimly-lit darkness.

"Petya," Miles begins quietly, "do you even want to get married? Because Grandma just hit me over the head pretty hard with, um, something I think I should have figured out years ago."

Petya looks at him for a long moment. "Your grandmother is right," he replies in the same low tone. "I became reconciled to my desires a long time ago. And I am not ashamed. But it is dangerous. Our family has enough danger already, don't you think?"

"Vorkosigans lead from the front," Miles says.

Petya shakes his head. "I don't want to lead anyone anywhere. I want to live quietly and be happy. I choose not to conduct my private life in public. I had not told you because it's not something you should concern yourself with. And I ask that you not make this public."

"I can keep secrets," Miles says. He hesitates for a moment, then decides he actually does want to know the answer. "Who else knows?"

"The ones you'd expect to know," Petya says. "The Prime Minister. The Chief of Imperial Security. If Gregor's gotten around to finally reading my file like I told him he should, he knows, too, though if he does know, he has yet to mention it to me. My security detail. I imagine your mother figured it out a long time ago. Some others, who, for the most part, I trust to keep this a secret."

That many and this hasn't been all over Vorbarr Sultana for years? Surprising, but Miles imagines that the 'some others' include men whose are in the same situation as Petya. "It's not shameful," Miles says. "Not now. Ivan collects passes from men, you know. He gets them a lot. We just laugh it all off, my generation."

"And those of my generation...," Petya pauses, then clearly makes some kind of serious decision, "has anyone ever told you about Dad and Ges Vorrutyer?"

"Um," Miles says decisively. "I've heard rumors."

"They're all true," Petya says. "Well, more precisely, all the ones I've heard are. There's a specter and shadow of my Uncle Ges hanging over me, always has been; us damn Vorrutyers and our notorious perversions. I'm too much a Vorrutyer for certain things to not be commented on negatively. And there is the small matter of the Countship. It's convenient for everyone involved if certain things are kept quiet. I've, ah, already had to defend myself once as not being the next Ges Vorrutyer."

Miles's mouth drops open. Someone thought that of Petya? "To who?"

"That's... not something you should concern yourself with. One of his victims." Petya stifles a laugh. "He said he wasn't accusing me, but I could see it in his eyes, that horrible speculation. He was wondering, staring at me, wondering when that sadistic streak would surface and I would start hurting the ones I love. It's a matter of honor to him, you see. Prickly enough honor you could choke on."

Okay, Petya, if you're trying not to answer questions, you have to do it better than that. "Dad would never think that of you--"

"Why wouldn't he?" Petya says calmly. "Ges Vorrutyer wanted to make me like him. Why wouldn't he wonder if he'd succeeded? I doubt he was getting my private life reported him only for security reasons. I wonder what Illyan's standing orders were, if I'd left someone bleeding."

"You wouldn't do that," Miles says, "although, there are places on Beta where you could do that safely, if you're actually into that kind of thing--"

Petya does laugh at that. "You can be horribly Betan, Miles. At the worst times."

"But it doesn't have to be a problem, if you like that," Miles babbles on. "You can channel destructive urges into safe mutually-consensual sex acts. Mother made sure I understood that, before I came to Beta for the year. It's legal here. You can get that on an earring and find others who share your interests, and I was already wanting to show you the Orb, and you could definitely find someone there, either a professional or meeting another amateur, there are whole parties and clubs and people who cater to--"

Petya hits him in the shoulder with a well-aimed pillow.

"But my point still stands," Miles says, and sits on the pillow. "You don't have to hide, Petya. It's not the Time of Isolation."

"I prefer discretion," Petya says. "It's discreet."

"You're being needlessly paranoid," Miles informs him. "And aren't there better things to waste time being paranoid over?"

"Mm," Petya agrees. "Yes. I can think of a dozen without effort. But paranoia is not a finite resource." He shakes his head. "Miles, give it up, please. I've made my choices and I ask that you let me proceed at my own pace in this."

"So no visit to the Orb, then?" Miles asks.

"You can certainly go, if you please," Petya says. "But I won't be."

"Ah." Miles worries at his bottom lip, then asks before he can think better of it, "are you? Seeing someone right now, I mean. Is there someone? Someone waiting, on Vervain, or back home?"

"At present, no."

"Okay," Miles says. "Will you tell me, when there is? I want to meet any potential brother-in-law. Say hello, you know. That kind of thing."

"If there is ever anything serious," Petya promises. "I'll let you know."

Right, and from Petya's tone, he doesn't expect that to be any time soon. Miles frowns. "Thanks," he says. I think. "Petya--"

Petya groans. "Goodnight, Miles. You can pester me for details in the morning."

Huh. So maybe he actually is jump lagged and that wasn't just a convenient excuse for a tactical retreat. Miles shrugs. "'night, Petya." He's going to take him up on that.

But in the morning.